Hugh B. Price Biography
Established Skills as Low-Key Activist, Lead National Urban League, Selected writings
In his distinguished career, Hugh Price worked in public television and journalism, including a stretch on the editorial board of the New York Times; he worked in philanthropy, as the vice president of the Rockefeller Foundation; and he served for nine years as the head of the National Urban League (NUL), helping to revitalize one of America's most important organizations aimed at improving the economic welfare of African Americans. When he retired from the National Urban League in 2003, Price was widely credited for restoring the non-profit organization's fiscal health and reviving its strategic vision.
Price was born on November 22, 1941, in Washington, D.C. His father was a physician and he enjoyed a middle-class upbringing. Price began his education in segregated schools, then moved to integrated facilities in the 1950s. In a New York Times article defending multiculturalism, Price stated: "In the newly integrated schools of the 1950s, we were taught one version of the Civil War—the Southern version. Of course, there was another version of the war that we weren't taught. And those contrasting versions clearly were the product of conscious decisions by historians, textbook publishers, and school teachers. I was an adult before I learned that [authors] Aleksandr Pushkin and Alexandre Dumas were partly black. No literary anthologies in my high school or college courses mentioned those facts. This pattern of denial and duplicity helps explain the deep-rooted suspicions among minorities and women about the accuracy of history taught in schools."
Established Skills as Low-Key Activist
Price graduated from Amherst in 1963, then went on to Yale, where he received his law degree in 1966. He immediately went to work in the inner city, serving as an attorney for the New Haven Legal Assistance Association. He then worked as executive director of the Black Coalition of New Haven. While these were notable posts in the New Haven community, Price did not emerge during the 1960s as a national civil rights leader. That fact was not lost on many who were surprised when, a quarter of a century later, he was named to head the National Urban League. "It's certainly not one of the well-known names," a league leader in Chicago was quoted as saying of Price in the Wall Street Journal. The Journal itself opined that "Mr. Price didn't grow up in high-profile civil rights work, like most of his predecessors."
While he may not have been "high-profile," Price was "high energy" when it came to the problems of inner-city poverty. After his stint with the Black Coalition he joined the urban affairs consulting firm of Cogen, Holt & Associates in New Haven, specializing in the analysis of municipal government and foundation programs. He then went to work for the city of New Haven, administering its human resources department.
Price certainly knew the ins and outs of municipal government, as well as the problems involved in bringing services to poor citizens and creating opportunities for them. In 1978 he was given the opportunity to help craft national thinking on these matters in an indirect way. Named to the editorial board of the New York Times, Price was able to shape the editorial page policies of that influential publication, and, indirectly, the policies of the many influential Americans who read the publication daily. At the New York Times Price wrote mainly about domestic policy issues.
After four years at the newspaper, Price moved to the broadcast media, accepting a job at New York's public television station, WNET-TV. He was senior vice president there and director of the station's production center. Price spent six years at WNET, from 1982 to 1988, before accepting a position as vice president of the Rockefeller Foundation. In that post, Price managed the foundation's Special Initiatives and Explorations grant fund and was responsible for helping minorities get more opportunities in groups served by the organization. Clearly, his history of managing large programs, and, more importantly, being able to get funding for them, caught the attention of the search committee set up to find a replacement in 1994 for retiring Urban League president John E. Jacob.
Lead National Urban League
Established in 1911, the National Urban League was created to end discrimination and to help all minorities—especially those in the cities—find economic opportunities. Based in New York City, the group has regional offices and local chapters scattered throughout the nation. During World War II, the league was instrumental in helping end segregation in the armed forces. Under the leadership of its executive director Whitney Young in 1963, it organized the March on Washington, which culminated in Martin Luther King Jr.'s stirring speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to an audience of more than 250,000. Another past executive director, Vernon Jordan, presided over an active and well-staffed Urban League in the 1970s. In the 1980s, however, the organization had lost some of its prestige and a great deal of its financial support.
Upon the May of 1994 announcement that Price was manning the helm, the Wall Street Journal reported these facts about the National Urban League: 30 percent of its staff had been cut since the mid-1980s; the league's board had decided to sell its share of an Upper East Side Manhattan high rise in which the league was headquartered; the national office operated at a $3.6 million deficit in 1989, and in 1992, grants and government contracts dropped off 5.8 percent from the previous year. The Journal noted that under the 12 years of John Jacobs's tenure as president–coinciding with the U.S. government administrations of former presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush–"the league suffered through government cuts in programs for the poor. Moreover, the organization, which relies heavily on corporate donations, has also weathered cuts in general support and gifts during recent years of corporate belt-tightening." Adding to the financial problems, the National Urban League was facing a spiritual crisis of sorts: no one was paying much attention to it anymore. The organization had always gained media attention for its annual Black State of the Union report, and for its annual convention, but the days of massive civil rights marches and stirring rhetoric seemed to have passed. The league needed a proverbial shot in the arm. Clearly, Price had his work cut out for him.
Price welcome the challenge that the NUL presented. He told the Wall Street Journal. "I think there are enormous challenges. But I'm not pessimistic. I'm not on a fool's errand." Black Enterprise reported that Price was interested in focusing on three key issues: "The academic and social status of children, unemployment in the inner cities, and rising racial isolation." The magazine went on to quote him as saying, "I [want] a team of colleagues who are experts and players in these areas [who can] talk about this agenda and devise programs that respond to it." So Price set about publicizing his goals.
His first major speech as Urban League president, delivered in Indianapolis in July of 1994, received national attention, for it addressed a number of controversial subjects and sent the league down an entirely different path from that which it followed earlier. He downplayed the importance of racism, and spoke instead about the challenges posed by poverty. Price claimed that the problems of poor schools, idle youngsters, and high unemployment cut across racial lines, and he supported policies that addressed the crisis in inner city unemployment and the failure of the black middle and upper classes to support those who were still struggling.
Over his years as head of the League, Price had a number of notable successes. He restored the group's financial health, in large part by winning the support of major corporations. In fact, during his tenure he help triple the NUL's endowment. He also made the organization more efficient by restructuring the board of directors and reorganizing the staff. Price conceived and launched the League's historic Campaign for African-American Achievement, a campaign that was coordinated with the Congress of National Black Churches and numerous other national black civic, social, and professional organizations. He helped to establish League's new headquarters in New York City and reintroduced Opportunity, the magazine that had once been a prominent voice for black economic issues.
Price did more than lead the National Urban League during the 1990s and into the 2000s. He was a board member on a number of prominent American corporations, including the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Bell Atlantic, and Sears Roebuck & Company. He contributed articles to major publications, and spoke regularly on issues of interest to Urban League members. He also published a number of important books, including Destination: The American Dream, a collection of his speeches and writings while with the National Urban League, and Achievement Matters: Getting Your Child the Best Education Possible, a book that offers to guide black parents as they try to help their children get the most of the education system.
Late in 2002, Price announced that it was time for him to step down from his post with the National Urban League. "I feel very strongly that heads of national organizations like the League should, to use a relay-race analogy, run hard, run fast, and then pass the baton before they get winded, before they start to stumble, not afterwards. And so I wanted to do that while I felt the organization was in terrific shape," Price told NPR correspondent Tavis Smiley, in a press release on the NPR Web site. After a career of public service, Price declared that it was time for him to devote more energy to his private life, including his wife, Marilyn, and his three grown daughters. Though Price was affiliated with the Piper Rudnick Gray Cary law firm in New York City, he was for all intents and purposes retired as of 2005.
To Be Equal, Lee A. Daniels, ed., National Urban League, 1999.
Destination: The American Dream, National Urban League, 2001.
Achievement Matters: Getting Your Child the Best Education Possible, Kensington Books, 2002.
Contributor to numerous magazines and periodicals, including New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Education Week, Review of Black Political Economy, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Phi Delta Kappan, and Chronicle of Higher Education. Author of weekly syndicated column "To Be Equal" and of weekly radio commentary.
Black Enterprise, August, 1994, p. 19.
Detroit Free Press, July 25, 1994, p. A1.
Jet, June 13, 1994, p. 26.
Library Journal, October 1, 2002, p. 112.
New Crisis, January-February 2003, pp. 10-12.
Newsweek, August 15, 1994, p. 57.
New York Times, December 14, 1977, p. 11; November 13, 1988, p. A32; September 22, 1991, Sec. 12 WC, p. 3; September 23, 1991, p. A17; July 24, 1994, p. 18; July 27, 1994, p. A21.
Wall Street Journal, May 26, 1994, p. B10; July 27, 1994, p. A2.
Washington Post, September 23, 2002, p. A19.
"Bio Page: Hugh B. Price," African American World/PBS, www.pbs.org/wnet/aaworld/society/bio_price.html (October 11, 2005).
"Hugh Bernard Price," Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (October 11, 2005).
"Hugh Price Steps Down as President of National Urban League," NPR, www.npr.org/about/press/021107.hughprice.html (October 11, 2005).
National Urban League, www.nul.org (October 11, 2005).
—John LoDico and
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